Category Archives: Historical

Review: Map of the Heart by Susan Wiggs

Title: Map of the Heart by Susan Wiggs
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Contemporary, Historical (WWII), Romance, Women’s Fiction
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

Love and family. War and secrets. Betrayal and redemption.

#1 New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs returns with a deeply emotional and atmospheric story that spans oceans and decades, from the present-day Delaware shore to the battlefields of WWII France.

Widowed by an unspeakable tragedy, Camille Palmer has made her peace with the past and settled into the quiet safety of life with her teenage daughter Julie in a sleepy coastal town. Then the arrival of a mysterious package breaks open the door to her family’s secret past. In uncovering a hidden history, Camille has no idea that she’s embarking on an adventure that will utterly transform her.

Camille, Julie, and Camille’s father return to the French town of his youth, sparking  unexpected memories — recollections that will lead them back to the dark days of the Second World War. And it is in the stunning Provençal countryside that they will uncover their family’s surprising history.

While Provence offers answers about the past, it also holds the key to Camille’s future. Along the way, she meets a former naval officer who stirs a passion deep within her — a feeling that she thought she’d never experience again.

Review:

Map of the Heart by Susan Wiggs is a beautifully rendered, poignant novel that mainly takes place in the present but also flips back in time to World War II in order to solve an intriguing family secret.

Camille Palmer Adams was at one time fearless and adventuresome as she embraced love and life without reservation. However, five years ago, in a heart-stopping instant, a tragic loss changed her into a woman who now refuses to take risks and rarely steps out of the sedate, safe life she has created with her fifteen year old daughter Julie. After experiencing another life-altering moment, Camille becomes aware that she has somehow overlooked some important changes in her daughter.  Will this stunning realization allow her to see past her own fears in order to allow Julie the freedom to spread her wings and enjoy life to the fullest? Or will Camille continue to let her past to shape her future?

Camille is quite close with her father, Henri Palmer, who left his small town in the French countryside to emigrate to America. As an American who romanticizes and idealizes the French, I immediately turned to my husband and asked, “why would a Frenchman abandon an idyllic life in FRANCE to permanently move to the United States?” The answer to that question stretches back to World War II and the beautiful, brave woman who refused to allow the Germans to defeat her after they invade her small country village.

In Map of the Heart, Susan Wiggs seamlessly weaves these two seemingly disparate story arcs into a heartwarming novel of healing and love. The novel’s picturesque settings spring vibrantly to life and readers will have no difficulty visualizing the coastal town of Bethany Bay or the bucolic French countryside.  The characters are multi-dimensional with true to life human frailties and foibles that make them easy to relate to as they attempt to make peace with their respective pasts.  I absolutely adored and highly recommend this captivating novel to fans of the genre.

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Filed under Contemporary, Historical, Historical (40s), Map of the Heart, Rated B+, Romance, Susan Wiggs, William Morrow, Women's Fiction

Review: The Quiet Child by John Burley

Title: The Quiet Child by John Burley
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Genre: Historical, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

From the award-winning author of The Absence of Mercy, comes a gripping and darkly psychological novel about family, suspicion, and the price we are willing to pay to protect those we love the most.

It’s the summer of 1954, and the residents of Cottonwood, California, are dying. At the center of it all is six-year-old Danny McCray, a strange and silent child the townspeople regard with fear and superstition, and who appears to bring illness and ruin to those around him. Even his own mother is plagued by a disease that is slowly consuming her.

Sheriff Jim Kent, increasingly aware of the whispers and rumors surrounding the boy, has watched the people of his town suffer—and he worries someone might take drastic action to protect their loved ones. Then a stranger arrives, and Danny and his ten-year-old brother, Sean, go missing. In the search that follows, everyone is a suspect, and the consequences of finding the two brothers may be worse than not finding them at all.

Review:

Set in the small town of Cottonwood, CA in 1954, The Quiet Child by John Burley  is a suspenseful mystery about the search for two kidnapped children.

How can an entire town blame a mute six year old boy for the ill health and death that have plagued them in recent years? Apparently quite easily in the absence of any other logical explanation. So when young Danny McCray and his ten year old brother Sean are kidnapped, does anyone outside of their parents, Michael and Kate, want them found? Thankfully part time Sheriff Jim Dent is not about to let fear and suspicion prevent him from doing everything he can to track down the kidnapper and rescue the boys before it is too late.

From the very second a stranger drives off in the McCray family car with Danny and Sean, there is an intense sense of urgency to locate the boys before something dire happens to them. Sheriff Dent is committed to finding the boys and he is completely honest with Detectives John Pierce and Tony DeLuca about the town’s opinion about Danny right from the very start. However, like Dent, both Pierce and DeLuca do not allow rumor and speculate interfere with the investigation and all three are committed to solving the crime. They are making very little progress in the days after the kidnapping but will Dent’s realization that Michael has gone looking for his sons change the course of the investigation? This discovery is the break they have been waiting for but can Dent, DeLuca and Pierce locate Michael in time to rescue him, Danny and Sean from a possibly dangerous situation?

While The Quiet Child is mainly a mystery, there is also a bit of a supernatural element to the storyline due to the speculation that Danny is somehow responsible for the town’s ill health and bad luck. The story weaves back and forth between the boys’ experiences at the kidnapper’s hands and the increasingly desperate manhunt and massive police search to locate them.  With no discernible motive for the kidnapping, plenty of action and some absolutely jaw-dropping plot twists, the novel is incredibly fast-paced with a compelling storyline. John Burley brings the novel to an astounding, twist-filled conclusion that will stun readers.

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Filed under Historical, Historical (50s), John Burley, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Suspense, The Quiet Child, William Morrow Paperbacks

Review: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Title: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Length: 324 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

Or did she?

In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most spellbinding murder cases of all time into a sensitive and humane portrait of two sisters caught inside a volatile household—and what it means to be free and truly loved.

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid Bridget: Someone’s killed father. The discovery of the brutal axe-murders of Andrew and Abby Borden under their own roof in Fall River, Massachusetts paralyzes the small community. No one can understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens. But secret witnesses to the crime have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful step-mother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.

As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? Before or after she last spoke to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Through the overlapping perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, we return to what happened on that fateful day.

Review:

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt is a fictionalized novel about the infamous Lizzie Border and the still unsolved murders of her father and stepmother.

On August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden made a gruesome discovery when she found her father Andrew’s lifeless body in the parlor.  Not too long after the family doctor and local police arrive at the Borden home, her stepmother Abby’s remains are found in the upstairs guestroom. The only other person in the house at the time of the murders is the Borden maid, Bridget.  Also visiting at time of the deaths is the Borden sisters’ maternal uncle, John Morse, but he is out of the house at the time of deaths.  Lizzie’s older sister Emma also still lives at home but she is currently staying with a friend out of town so she is not considered a suspect.  Although Lizzie is eventually arrested and tried for the double homicide, she is ultimately acquitted and the world has remained fascinated with the Borden family and the deaths ever since.

In  See What I Have Done, the narration rotates between Lizzie, Bridget, Emma and a completely fictional character, Benjamin, a thug hired by Uncle John for a somewhat mysterious purpose. The four voices are distinct and each brings a unique perspective to the Borden household.  Lizzie is portrayed as quite manipulative and she comes across as somewhat childlike despite the fact she 32 years old at the time of the murders. She is definitely the least sympathetic or likable person in the novel and she certainly has the motive, means and opportunity to commit to commit the murders. Bridget is an Irish immigrant who wants nothing more than leave her position with the Bordens and return to Ireland but Abby Borden convinced her to remain with the family. However, Bridget has managed to save enough money to put her plan in motion, but will Abby allow her to leave? John’s relationship with his nieces is portrayed as somewhat troubled with a  kind of an icky factor that comes across as somewhat incestuous (shudder). The inclusion of Benjamin in the novel is rather odd and further muddies an already muddled narrative.  Emma is incredibly loyal to Lizzie and she easily capitulates to her sister’s selfish demands.

For the most part, the storyline focuses mainly on the  day before and the day of the murders with a few other dates thrown in near the end of the novel.  The chapters from Lizzie’s perspective support the widely held theory she is a murderess and that she made more than one attempt to commit murder before finally succeeding.  The writing style for Lizzie’s chapters is off-putting which makes it difficult to maintain readers’ attention. There is also a great deal of repetition that contributes to the slow pacing of the story.

If you are new to Lizzie Borden and the still unsolved murders of her father and stepmother, then See What I Have Done is the book for you. However, if you are looking for new information about the case, you might not enjoy the novel because, outside of the addition of the fictional character Benjamin, Sarah Schmidt remains true to the known facts of the case and offers very little new insight into the murders.

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Filed under Atlantic Monthly Press, Fiction, Historical, Rated C, Review, Sarah Schmidt, See What I Have Done

Review: Murder in Mayfair by D.M. Quincy

Title: Murder in Mayfair by D.M. Quincy
Atlas Catesby Series Book One
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Historical, Mystery
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

In 1814, Atlas Catesby, a brilliant adventurer and youngest son of a baron, is anxious to resume his world travels after being injured in a carriage accident in London. But his plans are derailed when, passing through a country village, he discovers a helpless woman being auctioned off to the highest bidder–by her husband.

In order to save her from being violated by another potential buyer, Atlas purchases the lady, Lilliana, on the spot to set her free. But Lilliana, desperate to be with her young sons and knowing the laws of England give a father all parental rights, refuses to be rescued–until weeks later when her husband is murdered and Atlas is the only one who can help clear her name of the crime.

Fortunately, Atlas is a master at solving complicated puzzles, with games as well as the intricacies of human motivation, and finds himself uniquely suited to the task, despite the personal peril it may put him in. But soon Altas learns the dead man had many secrets–and more than a few enemies willing to kill to keep them quiet–in Murder in Mayfair, the first in a new historical mystery series by D. M. Quincy.

Review:

With a cast of eclectic characters, an intriguing murder and a wonderful setting, Murder in Mayfair, the first release in D.M. Quincy’s Atlas Catesby series, is a marvelous mystery set in 1814 England.

Atlas Catesby’s zest for adventure usually keeps him far from home, but he has been sidelined for months while waiting for an injury to heal.  When he and his good friend, the Earl of Charlton Gabriel Young stop for a meal, Atlas chivalrously steps in to rescue Lilliana Warwick when her odious husband Godfrey sells her at a public auction.  He then takes her to his sister Thea Palmer’s home and they begin to brainstorm how to permanently reunite Lilliana with her two young sons, Peter and Robin. Godfrey continues to be a thorn in her side as he attempts to force her to return to their country home. After Atlas discovers Godfrey’s corpse, he becomes Bow Street runner Ambrose Endicott’s prime suspect when the death is ruled a homicide.  Uncertain whether Endicott is pursuing the case with enough vigor, Catesby turns amateur sleuth in order to unmask the killer.

Atlas is quite intelligent with a penchant for solving puzzles.  He is growing increasingly restless as his recovery takes much longer than he originally anticipated. He is rather forward thinking for the time period as he eschews  many  of society’s rules and champions women’s rights.  Atlas is unable to leave behind his guilt from a long ago tragedy and he cannot resist stepping in when he witnesses a damsel in distress.

Lilliana is a bit mysterious as she reveals as little as possible about herself to her new acquaintances. She is fiercely devoted to her sons and she will do anything to maintain contact with them.  Despite her untenable marriage, Lilliana is a strong, resilient woman who refuses to let fear prevent her confronting her vile husband when she needs to.

During his investigation into Godfrey’s murder, Atlas discovers there are many people who have good reason to kill the despicable man. Topping the list is the mysterious man who was recently involved in a physical altercation with Godrey not long before the murder.  But with only a vague description of a man wearing distinctive ring, Atlas’s efforts to locate him are quickly stalled. Another clue leads Atlas to a local tailor with a secret to keep but would he kill Godfrey in order to silence him? Atlas also discovers that Godfrey recently had a falling out with his only friend but is this a motive for murder?

Murder in Mayfair is an enthralling mystery with a fascinating storyline and an interesting cast of characters. The slow build up to Godfrey’s murder provides D.M. Quincy with ample opportunity to develop the various characters and the storyline. Atlas’s investigation reveals a vast pool of suspects who have viable motives for murder, but which one of them is the killer? The novel hurtles to an absolutely stunning conclusion as Atlas finally uncovers the jaw-dropping truth about Godfrey’s murderer.  A wonderful beginning to the Atlas Catesby series that is sure to delight fans of historical mysteries.

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Filed under Atlas Catesby Series, Contemporary, Crooked Lane Books, DM Quincy, Historical, Murder in Mayfair, Mystery, Rated B, Review

Review: The Lightkeeper’s Daughters by Jean E. Pendziwol

Title: The Lightkeeper’s Daughters by Jean E.Pendziwol
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Fiction
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

With the haunting atmosphere and emotional power of The Language of Flowers, Orphan Train, and The Light Between Oceans, critically acclaimed children’s author Jean E. Pendziwol’s adult debut is an affecting story of family, identity, and art that involves a decades-old mystery.

Though her mind is still sharp, Elizabeth’s eyes have failed. No longer able to linger over her beloved books or gaze at the paintings that move her spirit, she fills the void with music and memories of her family, especially her beloved twin sister, Emily. When her late father’s journals are discovered after an accident, the past suddenly becomes all too present.

With the help of Morgan, a delinquent teenager performing community service at her senior home, Elizabeth goes through the diaries, a journey through time that brings the two women closer together. Entry by entry, these unlikely friends are drawn deep into a world far removed from their own, to Porphyry Island on Lake Superior, where Elizabeth’s father manned the lighthouse and raised his young family seventy years before.

As the words on these musty pages come alive, Elizabeth and Morgan begin to realize that their fates are connected to the isolated island in ways they never dreamed. While the discovery of Morgan’s connection sheds light onto her own family mysteries, the faded pages of the journals will shake the foundation of everything Elizabeth thinks she knows and bring the secrets of the past into the light.

Review:

Weaving back and forth in time, The Lightkeeper’s Daughters by Jean E. Pendziwol is a poignant novel about an elderly woman’s childhood on Porphyry Island and the troubled teen who helps her piece together long ago events from her past.

After her beloved grandfather death, Morgan Fletcher becomes a ward of the state. After becoming involved with a bad crowd, she is caught spraying graffiti on the fence of an assisted living facility. Handed a community service sentence to clean up her handiwork, Morgan meets Elizabeth Livingstone, who lives in the facility. After living abroad for much of adult life, Elizabeth wanted to spend her remaining years close to Lake Superior and the island where she grew up. The recent discovery of the personal diaries her father kept while he was the lightkeeper on Porphyry Island leaves her hopeful she will finally find answers about her childhood. However, due to her failing eyesight, Elizabeth asks Morgan to read the entries to her. Will Elizabeth find the answers she is searching for? And by helping Elizabeth, will Morgan find a measure of happiness that has eluded her since her grandfather passed away?

Life has not been easy for Morgan and past heartbreak has taught her not to become too attached to anyone.  She is currently on a somewhat self-destructive path after meeting Derrick, a young man who is only looking out for himself.  Morgan has a negative attitude when she begins her community service so she is surprised to find herself drawn to Elizabeth.  Intrigued by the unfolding drama as she reads the diary entries aloud, Morgan is quickly caught up the long ago events surrounding Elizabeth’s life on Porphyry Island.

Despite some very harsh living conditions, Elizabeth’s childhood on Porphyry Island  was somewhat idyllic. She and her twin sister Emily were inseparable and  Elizabeth knew from a young age she needed to watch out for her artistically gifted but ever silent sibling.  During her childhood, an overheard conversation between her parents and her inexplicable discovery on a neighboring island raise several questions that Elizabeth never receives answers for.  Will Elizabeth find the truth about her past in her father’s journals?

The Lightkeeper’s Daughters is an incredibly atmospheric story that is quite captivating. Morgan is initially quite prickly with a bad attitude but spending time with Elizabeth helps smooth over her rough edges. Elizabeth is incredibly patient with her new companion and her wry observations and keen insights are instrumental in Morgan’s transformation.  Jean E. Pendziwol brings the past vibrantly to life through the journal entries and these glimpses into lightkeeping duties on an isolated island are quite fascinating and educational.  With surprising twists and turns, the novel comes to a heartwarming conclusion that will delight readers.

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Filed under Contemporary, Fiction, Harper, Historical, Jean Pendziwol, Rated B+, Review, The Lightkeeper's Daughters

Review: The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen by Victoria Alexander

Title: The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen by Victoria Alexander
The Lady Travelers Guide Series Book One
Publisher: HQN Books
Genre: Historical, Romance
Length: 544 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Embark on the breathtaking romantic adventures of The Lady Travelers Society in the brand-new series by #1 New York Times bestselling author Victoria Alexander 

Really, it’s too much to expect any normal man to behave like a staid accountant in order to inherit the fortune he deserves to support the lifestyle of an earl. So when Derek Saunders’s favorite elderly aunt and her ill-conceived—and possibly fraudulent—Lady Travelers Society loses one of their members, what’s a man to do but step up to the challenge? Now he’s escorting the world’s most maddening woman to the world’s most romantic city to find her missing relative.

While India Prendergast only suspects his organization defrauds gullible travelers, she’s certain a man with as scandalous a reputation as Derek Saunders cannot be trusted any farther than the distance around his very broad shoulders. As she struggles not to be distracted by his wicked smile and the allure of Paris, instead of finding a lost lady traveler, India just may lose her head, her luggage and her heart.

Free bonus story included in this volume! Don’t miss The Proper Way to Stop a Wedding (in Seven Days or Less), a The Lady Travelers Guide novella.

Review:

Brimming with humor and set against the backdrop of Paris, The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen by Victoria Alexander is a highly entertaining historical romance. The Lady Travelers Guide series is off to a strong beginning with this first full-length novel that stars a marvelous cast of characters.

India Prendergrast is incredibly worried when she stops receiving letters from her cousin Lady Heloise Snuggs. Heloise booked her adventurous trip through the Lady Travlers Society and when her inquiries about her cousin go unanswered, India is convinced the society is defrauding its members of their money.  She is also certain the widows who run the organization are a front for the real mastermind of the nefarious scheme.  When she discovers Derek Saunders discussing Heloise with the club’s founders, Lady Guinevere Blodgett and her two best friends, India is convinced her suspicions have been confirmed. However, unbeknownst to India, Derek has figured out what the ladies are up to and he is determined to protect his aunt and her friends from any legal repercussions from their actions. India and Derek join forces to find Heloise and their first stop is Paris, but locating the missing woman amongst the crowd of visitors enjoying the World’s Fair is a daunting task. Will Derek be able to stall India long enough for his uncle’s detectives to locate her missing cousin?

India is a very independent and no nonsense young woman. Unlike most women of the time period, she has no interest in marrying so she works for Sir Martin Luckthorne as his secretarial assistant. She is extremely well-organized with a fairly rigid viewpoint of life.  Convinced she is always right, India tends to rub people the wrong way with her propensity to speak her mind and her unbending attitude.

Derek is in line to inherit his family’s title and he has recently begun to change his rakish ways.  In order to clean up his reputation, he has been working on his uncle’s estate and much to his surprise, he finds he is enjoying his new duties. Very protective of his great aunt, he will do whatever it takes to prevent the truth about her scam from becoming known.

Derek and India rub each other the wrong way right from their very first meeting. Derek thinks she is opinionated and unbending; India views him as an unrepentant scoundrel. As they begin their search for Heloise, they bicker endlessly as they trek from one hotel to another. Derek convinces India to take time to savor the beauty sights of Paris and slowly but surely, she begins to realize that she might have misjudged him.   Over the next several weeks, India becomes much more self-aware once she recognizes how narrow her viewpoint is. Her once adversarial relationship with Derek gradually turns into a friendship as he challenges her to broaden her horizons.  A mutual attraction also simmers under the surface but will Derek and India take their relationship to the next level?

The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen is an absolutely charming historical romance with an eclectic cast of likable characters. The story’s premise is refreshingly unique and the storyline is quite engaging. Delightfully witty banter will keep readers laughing as Derek and India set off on an adventure that leads to a journey of self-discovery for the erstwhile heroine. This first installment in Victoria Alexander’s The Lady Travelers Guide series is an exciting and fun-filled romance that is sure to be a hit with fans of the genre.

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Filed under Harlequin, Historical, HQN Books, Rated B+, Review, Romance, The Lady Travelers Guide Series, The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen, Victoria Alexander